The Dukes of Hazzard Review
OK, anyone who already thinks they won’t enjoy this is not going to be convinced by whatever I say next. However, people with affection not simply for the original TV show, but more importantly the 70s action-comedies movies that inspired it, should hopefully find in the new film something remarkably true to the anarchic Southern Outlaw spirit of such films as Smokey and the Bandit.
If you sat down and made a list of the ingredients needed for a Dukes movie, it would probably look something like the following:
1) Old-school car chases & stuntwork
2) Redneck humour, including sibling rivalry and a proper barroom brawl
3) Daisy Duke’s Daisy Dukes
4) Uncle Jessie’s moonshine
5) Cooter’s repair work and Enus’ bumblings
6) The dastardly duo of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and Boss Hogg
7) LOUD Country-rock music
8) A big race needing winning against a hotshot driver
9) Slimy authority/big money versus rough-hewn anarchistic collectivism as a huge threat to the good folks of Hazzard County, Georgia, can only be thwarted by the Duke boys
10) 70s cameos
On all counts, the film delivers – but would anyone have expected this from the Broken Lizard troupe and their directing honcho Jay Chandrasekhar? Probably not. Nevertheless, following their 70s-style comedy Super Troopers, and the 70s-style horror/comedy Club Dread, they’ve made a true-blue 70s-style redneck action comedy, and they do the subgenre proud. In the vein of successful modern cinematic remakes of old TV shows, Jay Chandrasekhar proves himself to be as talented an adaptor as Brian DePalma was with The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible,. At times a post-modern spirit pops up, taking all and sundry by surprise, in the vein of the better moments of McG’s Charlie’s Angels – the reaction of Atlanta inhabitants to the refurbished General Lee, or Scott’s cinema gags being prime examples. At other times, the film is as raw as its inspirations, with hand-held cameras and gags that were old when your grandpa first heard them combining to create a warm glow of 70s nostalgia. The film is helped immensely by a script that literally hits all the right notes listed above, and a cast willing to throw themselves into the middle of everything, Knoxville in particular doing some stunts himself a la Jackass. Nelson and Reynolds are fun, but a little flat, possibly feeling their ages, especially around the delectable Jessica Simpson. All the members of Broken Lizard who show up put in sterling work, while veteran character actor M.C.Gainey invests the Sheriff with a genuine air of menace only aggravated by his failures and stupidity. Special mention, however, has to go to Seann William Scott, who achieves here what he failed to do in Bulletproof Monk,, playing a genuine action hero who makes up for what he lacks in subtlety and smarts with easygoing charm and wicked driving. Bo’s love for his steed and his adherence to an out-moded code of honour mark him out as a classic Western hero, lacking all but the hat. Knoxville, meanwhile, builds on a superb chemistry with him, making Luke a classic rogue, not dissimilar to Mel Gibson’s take on Maverick – a womaniser and a gambler, but smart enough to know when to duck. Together, they lift the characters from out of the 70s into the line of cinematic myth that they were always meant to be cut from. It’s interesting that Chandrasekhar, an Asian-American, finds the qualities in redneck culture that are not only entertaining, but can be respected, and in this sense he drags a vast swathe of the American population off Jerry Springer and back up to a more human level – an achievement on a par with Harold & Kumar being a financially successful stoner comedy despite having Asian leads.
Ultimately, though, all the comedy, all the acting, all of this is about filling the time between the action – and how does that hold up? Well, I’ve had many discussions with friends raised on 70s car chase flicks about the recent wave of chases in modern Hollywood flicks, and we’re all agreed on one thing – the Gone in 60 Seconds remake dropped the ball in spectacular fashion, not least with the CGI final jump. The Dukes, however, is so resolutely old-school that at one point the chase camera at road level actually misses the General in front of it due to the swerving being faster than the chase vehicle can turn! Superb driving of classic American muscle cars, huge numbers of police vehicles trashed, and big jumps with chassis-wrecking landings stick their fingers up at the weak cars and CGI enhancements of the Fast and the Furious films and Bruckheimer-produced fare. This here is the real deal, choreographed, driven, shot, edited and scored to within an inch of its life, and if this doesn’t excite you, then the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants is in the next screen over – see ya!
Love it or hate it, this is what a big-screen Dukes of Hazzard should be. And if you know anything about these films, then you’ll know that when the credits roll, the show ain’t over just yet…. Yeeee-haw!